News / Asia

S. Korean Rebellion Plot Turns Spotlight on Spy Agency

Lee Seok-ki of the leftist Unified Progressive Party speaks before leaving the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 4, 2013.
Lee Seok-ki of the leftist Unified Progressive Party speaks before leaving the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 4, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
On September 4, South Korea's parliament for the first time voted to prosecute one of its lawmakers for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government in favor of North Korea. The lawmaker and the North Koreans are denying the allegation and instead accusing South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, of fabricating it for political purposes. 
 
Seoul's National Intelligence Service (NIS) last week arrested Lee Seok-ki and three other members of his Unified Progressive Party for treason and violating the National Security Law.
 
The NIS alleges they plotted an armed rebellion against their own country in the event of war with North Korea.
 
South Korean media say the group, known as the Revolutionary Organization, planned to steal weapons and attack oil and communication facilities.
 
Korea's National Assembly, for the first time, voted to strip Lee of his parliamentary immunity, and the ruling Saenuri party of President Park Geun-hye is calling for his expulsion.
 
North Korea's state media on Sunday rejected any link between the South Korean lawmaker and Pyongyang, describing the charges as a “farce” to spoil improving relations between the two Koreas.
 
Paek Do-myoung, chairman of Professors for Democracy, a group advocating democratic reform through education, said the case is historic.
 
He said there were some cases in the past related to plotting rebellion, but there has never been a case where an incumbent lawmaker was accused of plotting rebellion.  Such a case happening these days, he said, seems almost impossible.
 
It is not the first time that Lee Seok-ki has been arrested for subversion related to North Korea.  
 
A decade ago he was jailed for participating in an underground political party accused of having links with Pyongyang.  Lee was sentenced to two and a half years in prison but received a presidential pardon.
 
His UPP is a small, left-wing party with only six of 298 seats in parliament.  But some of its rhetoric leads many to believe they are more than just sympathetic to North Korea.
 
The party is one of the most outspoken advocates of removing the United States military presence from South Korea, despite the security assurance it provides against possible attacks from the North.  And even though Pyongyang routinely threatens Washington and Seoul, Lee has been quoted in South Korean media saying it is the U.S., not North Korea, creating tensions on the peninsula.
 
However, the South Korean lawmaker denies the rebellion charges.  
 
He said the clock of South Korea’s democracy has stopped as of today...The politics of South Korea is missing, he added, and the politics of the National Intelligence Service has begun.  He said his Unified Progressive Party will trust South Korean citizens and strongly fight to protect democracy.
 
Lee and the UPP accuse the NIS and conservatives of leading a “witch hunt” to distract attention from a scandal over last year's presidential election. 
 
Former director Won Sei-hoon is on trial accused of ordering NIS agents to post comments online against liberal candidates and praising conservative ruling party leader Park Geun-hye, who won the presidency.
 
Hundreds of Koreans have gathered in recent months for candlelit protests against NIS abuses, and calling for the spy agency to be reformed.
 
Paek Do-myoung, chairman of Professors for Democracy, a group advocating democratic reform through education, said the fact that the NIS was involved in wrongdoing or illegal activities cannot be denied. Lee’s case happened while people were pointing out the NIS’s wrongdoings.  He said the crime of plotting rebellion was applied to Lee, but he is not sure if it really is plotting rebellion.  He added that he considers it suspicious whether or not there is a case.
 
South Korea's spy agency and conservative governments have a history of arresting and punishing left-wing opponents, sometimes in concert, under the pretense of suppressing communism and pro-Pyongyang groups.
 
South Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee, established the 1948 National Security Law to halt the spread of communism, but also used it to arrest thousands of people, many of them student activists.
 
The National Security law is criticized for suppressing freedom of speech and association, making it illegal to praise North Korea or contact any of its agents without permission.
 
South Korea also blocks pro-North Korea websites and arrests distributors of propaganda, including those who re-send links through Twitter.
 
Defenders of the harsh laws say they are necessary because of the continuing threat posed by North Korea.  
 
Hwang Tae-soon, a political analyst at the Wisdom Center, a think tank in Seoul, said the National Security Law of South Korea is the same as the Patriot Act in the United States.  Since South Korea and North Korea stand face to face, he said, South Korea needs a special law for the crimes related to spying, rebellion and incursion.  
 
South Korea has thwarted assassination plots by North Korean agents over the years. In more recent times, the NIS has arrested South Koreans accused of helping the North carry out cyber attacks.
 
The NIS declined an interview request from VOA saying they are not commenting on Lee's case.
 
South Korea's main liberal opposition, the Democratic Party, supported removing Lee's immunity.  But it also warned conservatives not to turn the case against Lee into a campaign to root out alleged communists.


VOA Seoul bureau's Youmi Kim also contributed to this report

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs